Saturday, February 14, 2015

Great Kirkus piece on Captain Video

Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949) Poster
thanks to bill crider for the link

Ed here: This was my "wow" TV show. So cool in every respect. Never missed it. Probably dreamed about it. Helped a lot that I was eleven and twelve years old. Here are excerpts Andrew Liptak's fine article. for the entire piece go here

By Andrew Liptak on February 12, 2015
Science fiction has a long history in the pages of pulp magazines and paperback novels from the early days of the 20th century. Beyond magazines such as Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction, the genre enjoyed popularity in comic books, and, beginning in 1949, on television. Throughout its history, science fiction has kept up with the various technological advances which it trumpeted, whether it was better printers in order to print paperback books cheaply and efficiently; better infrastructure and computerized inventory systems; or a newfangled device which brought the motion picture into homes. Captain Video and his Video Rangers, written by some of the best authors in the business, is one such program that took advantage of the home television and brought science fiction into a promising new world.

Agent Scott Meredith brought in some of the authors he worked with, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Damon Knight, C.M. Kornbluth, Walter Miller, Robert Sheckley, Jack Vance, and Dan Wilcox, all major figures in the sci-fi marketplace who had plenty of experience in the areas in which Captain Video was lacking. Their presence helped to improve the quality of the daily show, allowing them to "tell complex stories that tackled concepts like freedom, democracy and scientific ethics." Jack Vance recounted in his autobiography that "when I arrived at [Druce’s] office in New York, I found myself part of a group which included Robert Sheckley, Arthur C. Clarke and a few others." He was to be paid $1500 per episode (almost $15,000 in 2014), and set to work, thrilling (producer) Druce with his scripts. 

In the meantime, Jack Vance soon ran into trouble with the show's producers: "On my last script or two, I had been letting my imagination range too far, injecting humor into the scripts and putting the characters into amusing predicaments. I got a call from Olga Druce complaining that I was turning Captain Video into a farce, and that my scripts would get her fired. Instead, she fired me."
Captain Video and his Video Rangers, despite its cheap production, was a forerunner of what would become a major television genre: the science-fiction television show. Its follow-up show, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, went through several network changes before also ending in 1955. Other television shows blossomed at this time, like Buck Rogers and Space Patrol, and major anthology shows such as Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone found incredibly successful runs in the late 1950s and 1960s. However, it was in 1966 that the best-known space program of them all appeared on CBS: Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Like Captain Video, Roddenberry hired prominent science-fiction authors, including Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch and others, to help with the show.

Unfortunately, most of the episodes of Captain Video have since been lost: much of the content from DuMont and other early television networks were destroyed in the 1970s, although some episodes still remain online. The show likely had some lasting impacts on some of the authors who helped create it: Arthur C. Clarke collaborated on another sci-fi film venture, 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Stanley Kubrick over a decade later. He heavily consulted on the story’s development alongside Kubrick.
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He can be found online at his site and on Twitter @andrewliptak.

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